Of the 22 countries that I’ve visited (so far), Croatia ranks among my favorites. And although European vacationers have been coming here for a long time, Croatia has recently become an increasingly popular travel destination among American travelers. But there’s much more to this amazing country than meets the eye.
Recently, I found myself at the Grand Rapids Brewing Company during what happened to be their weekly trivia night. I love watching Jeopardy! or playing Trivial Pursuit as much as the next person, and even though my group was in second-to-last place, I was still having a great time. We had just finished up a round, and as the emcee read out the bonus question, I felt that satisfying little adrenaline rush that comes with knowing the correct answer.
“The southernmost point in mainland Europe is located in which country?”
A couple of months ago, I probably would have guessed Turkey, or perhaps Italy… maybe Greece? But now, after completing a Destination Specialist course in Southern Europe, I can confidently tell you that the answer is Spain (Punta de Tarifa, to be precise).
Destination Specialist courses are just one of the educational opportunities that Witte offers to employees. Those of us who took the Southern Europe course received a textbook and attended weekly lunchtime lectures given by Jane, Group Tour Specialist and European travel aficionado (retired), who often supplemented her talks with a slideshow of pictures from her own travels to each of the countries we discussed. After eight weeks of classes, we met one more time to review for the certification exam and to celebrate our completion of the course with a potluck lunch consisting of traditional Southern European foods.
Although I have been to some of the countries that we talked about, I was reminded how much more there is to each place beyond just the cities I’ve seen. I also learned a lot about the places that I haven’t been to yet (but which I am now all the more eager to visit!)
Here are just a couple of facts that I found especially interesting:
The architecture of the Pantheon in Rome is seriously impressive.
The Pantheon is one of Rome’s most famous historic landmarks, and is also the best preserved. It functioned as a temple dedicated to the seven gods of the planets, and the building’s structure was very clearly designed to reflect that purpose. Just one example of this is the oculus, a large opening in the dome that allows sunlight to illuminate the rotunda’s interior. The oculus is precisely positioned so that it casts a beam of sunlight into the room, which some historians believe acted like a sundial. On special dates, such as the equinoxes or the anniversary of Rome’s founding on April 21, the sunbeam lights up the doorway where the emperor might have stood.
Nestled in the Italian peninsula is a tiny country is the oldest republic in the world.
San Marino is only 24 square miles, and is surrounded by Italy on all sides, and is situated on the highest point in the peninsula. This advantageous position is largely what has allowed San Marino to remain independent since the 4th century, as soldiers armed with crossbows could easily defend the republic from invaders. San Marino still has a Crossbow Corps as a part of their military, although now the corps is now only reserved for ceremonial purposes.
There are wild monkeys in Europe!
But only in Gibraltar, a tiny British colony (2.3 square miles) that is located on a rocky peninsula on the south coast of Spain. Today, these Barbary macaques are Gibraltar’s top tourist attraction, and thus are quite used to humans. The monkeys will often approach, and may even climb onto, curious tourists, but feeding them is now illegal—previously, the monkeys became too familiar with tourists and began to depend on them for food, which lead them to wander from their homes in the Gibraltar Nature Reserve to forage in the town, often causing damage to personal property. Now they live comfortably, monitored by veterinarians and given a daily supply of fresh water and food to supplement natural food resources.
Do you have any other trivia-worthy facts about Europe to share with us? Post them in the comments, or let us know on Facebook!